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Marine not guilty in hazing of lance corporal who committed suicide

February 9, 2012 |  2:52 pm

Marine Sgt. Benjamin Johns
A court-martial jury found a Marine sergeant not guilty Thursday of assaulting a California Marine, who committed suicide in Afghanistan.

The jury of three officers and five enlisted found Sgt. Benjamin Johns, 26, not guilty of assaulting Lance Cpl. Harry Lew.

Lew, 21, from Santa Clara in Northern California, committed suicide in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on April 3, just hours after allegedly being mistreated by Johns and two other Marines. He was the nephew of Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park).

Johns was charged with assault and dereliction of duty for not stopping Marines in his squad from pummeling Lew in retaliation for repeatedly falling asleep on guard duty.

But Johns' attorney said that Johns ordered Lew to dig a foxhole in order to keep him from falling asleep. Something done to help Marines fulfill their mission cannot be hazing, he told the jury.

One Marine has pleaded guilty to assault and has been given 30 days in the brig in the case. Another Marine is set for court-martial.

Johns' court-martial took place in Hawaii, where the Marines are assigned.

Chu has called for a congressional hearing into cases of hazing in the military, including that of her nephew.


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine Sgt. Benjamin Johns walks to the courtroom of the Legal Services Center of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Credit: Kent Nishimura / Associated Press.